Monday, July 18, 2011

Symbolism: Crossroads

A symbol is something that represents something else, either by connotation or by similitude. In writing, symbolism is used to deliver meanings that are deeper than the words themselves. The plot and action provide the reader with one layer of understanding while, symbolism takes the reader to another layer. This extension, or added meaning, is a powerful tool for creating interest, intrigue and excitement in the mind of the reader.

Crossroads, or choices, is a symbol found widely in YAL (young adult literature). Why is this? Essentially because young adults identify so easily with the muddy and sometimes horrifying task of making decisions, (not to mention high stakes and weighty decisions make for a fascinating story.)

Examples of Crossroads/Choices symbols in current YAL:

~The reservoir in Imaginary Girls (Nova Ren Suma) is a huge symbol, portrayed as this omnipotent “being” that lives and breathes and is there to remind Chloe of the crossroad between life and death.

~I hate to use this example, but it works because even characters themselves can become symbols. Take Edward and Jacob (okay, let’s all groan together, uggghhhh) become symbols. Edward=death, Jacob=life.

But not all crossroads/choices are about life and death (though that one is fairly rampant). In Tempest Rising (Tracy Deebs), two characters (Mark, Tempest’s bf, and Kona, the mysterious surfer) symbolize a much different crossroad: the decision between land and sea. And in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series, the white cat (or Lila in Red Glove) provide symbol of the choice Cassel has to make between basically being good and bad ( a conman or not).

Crossroads can also be found in dreams, often times symbolizing confusion and not being able to see the way clear of a solution to a problem. It may also be a portent of many opportunities on the horizon for the character(s).

The Bookshelf Muse has an awesome post for writers looking to insert symbolism into their writing with a fairly decent list of natural and societal symbols for crossroads.

FUN FACT: Real life crossroads are often situated on top of natural ley lines which are intersections of high energetic vibrations from the earth and its atmosphere.  These high voltage spots are often blamed for car accidents at intersections.

No matter the symbol, remember this: Symbolism is like salt. I know, I know, another comparison to seasonings (funny thing is, I’m not that great of a cook). But here’s why: Salt keeps the food from tasting bland. The “right” amount of salt is when you don’t notice that it’s there and you don’t notice that it’s missing. A little salt goes a long way. Too much salt will make you gag.

What about you? What are some symbols you've used in your writing to symbolize a significant choice?


  1. What a cool blog you've got here.

    I'm a new follower, so: nice ta meet ya!

  2. Nice to meet you too, Matthew. Thanks for the follow!